Siede la terra dove nata fui
su la marina dove ‘l Po discende
per aver pace co’ seguaci sui.
Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende
prese costui de la bella persona
che mi fu tolta; e ‘l modo ancor m’offende.
Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona,
mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona.
Amor condusse noi ad una morte:
Caina attende chi a vita ci spense.
Totally off-topic today. Sometimes we need that. Or I do, at least! 😉
A while ago I read online that Roberto Benigni, an Italian actor and film director, is the equivalent of a double shot of espresso coffee. I agree. Some of you may remember him excitedly jumping onto the backs of seats during the 1999 Academy Award ceremony after his La vita ÃƒÂ¨ bella, or Life is beautiful won three Oscars. Deservedly so, in my opinion.
Anyway, I am writing about Benigni because yesterday evening he put on an extraordinary one-man show on TV (Rai Uno, one of the Italian state channels). Absolutely brilliant. After a bit of contemporary political satire, Benigni, using his unique expressive communication style, launched into a passionate and eloquent explanation of the Divine Comedy’s 5th Canto. For two and a half hours, he barely stopped to take a breath. Fantastico. I was glued to the screen. Verse by verse, at times word by word, Benigni described every detail of this famous Canto, which centers on the tragic story of two lovers, Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini. He put into plain language the most intricate and difficult passages and concepts, at times drawing on current Italian social and political events to make his point more clearly. Keep in mind that Dante Alighieri wrote the Divine Comedy in vernacular Italian at the beginning of the 14th century, so this wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
I would like to note that I went through the Italian public school system (yep, I am one of those odd bilingual creatures), where I studied Dante’s Divine Comedy. I also examined each and every verse while doing research for my Ph.D. thesis (don’t ask! 😉 ). My interest, however, has always been superficial…related to schoolwork. But yesterday evening Benigni infected me with his fervour. I want to reread the Divine Comedy.
Benigni ended his performance by reciting the entire 5th Canto from memory. Now, I am no lover of poetry, but this final part brought tears to my eyes. Benigni’s declamation came from the gut, it had feeling, it had passion. Last year, for his interpretation of Dante, Benigni was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature. He didn’t win, but in my opinion, he should have. Grazie, Roberto!